Israeli Archaeologists Find First Purple Fabric from King David’s Era


Researchers recreated the ancient dyeing process with mollusks.

The color purple appears several times in the Bible, usually in a robe draping one of the kings of ancient Israel. But the search for an authentic artifact dyed the royal color from the time of King David has always proved elusive.

That changed this week, after researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Bar Ilan University and Tel Aviv University said they had identified pieces of fabric dyed “true purple” dating to the 10th century BCE, when the Hebrew Bible says David and Solomon ruled in Jerusalem.

“This is the first piece of textile ever found from the time of David and Solomon that is dyed with the prestigious purple dye,” Naama Sukenik, curator of organic material at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a joint statement.

The three scraps were among several discovered by archaeologists in recent years in the Timna Valley, the site of a vast ancient copper mining operation in southern Israel. Direct carbon dating revealed that the fabrics hark back to about 1000 BCE.

Timna was likely part of the kingdom of Edom, bordering the kingdom of Israel to the south. The biblical Book of Samuel relates how David and his army battled and conquered the Edomites.

The Old and New Testaments mention that David, Solomon, and the priests of the Jewish Temple, as well as Jesus some centuries later, all wore purple garments, and according to ancient sources, purple textiles were highly valued and a symbol of nobility.

Sukenik said that the vast majority of the ancient textiles excavated by archaeologists around the world were dyed with colors derived from plants. But the purple dyes in the Timna Valley find were made from another source: the secretions of mollusks.

“The use of animal-based dyes is regarded …

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